CHICAGO—Driven by the fast-growing electricity needs of a computerized society, the United States is entering a historic "Third Age" of electricity demand that requires service reliability at levels never previously achieved.
"We are at the end of the beginning" of the new era in which pervasive information technology can tolerate power outages of no more than 30 seconds per year, Mark Mills, president of Mills McCarthy & Associates Inc., told more than 200 executives attending the Nuclear Energy Assembly here. Existing levels of service reliability—though astounding at 99.9 percent—equate to outages of only eight hours per year, but are inadequate to meet the continuous electricity needs of the new "silicon economy," Mills said.
The U.S. nuclear energy industry, which supplies 20 percent of the nation's electricity needs, is coming off a record-breaking year in which the reliability, or capacity factor, of the 103 reactors operating in 31 states reached an all-time high (86.8 percent) and produced a record-high of 728 billion kilowatt-hours.
Mills said the "ascendancy of the Third Age of electricity demand" means that electric utilities and other power producers not only will have to generate more electricity, but they also will have to increase the reliability of supplies to at least 99.9999 percent to satisfy high-tech industry and commerce.
Mills' reliability theme was echoed by one of Chicago's leading commercial real estate developers, Robert Wislow, who said that even a minute's disruption in electricity supplies to a Chicago company costs it $200,000 in profits.
Wislow, chairman and chief executive officer of U.S. Equities Realty LLC, also told industry executives that his ability to develop commercial properties hinges in part on nuclear energy's clean-air attributes. Because nuclear energy does not emit pollutants into the atmosphere, it helps Chicago stay within federal and state air-quality limits that otherwise could trigger tighter restrictions on automobiles in downtown Chicago, and thus limit development.
"We come under a Clean Air Act here in downtown Chicago, and under that Clean Air Act we have to be concerned about the emission of pollutants from, at least, automobiles that are coming downtown," Wislow said. "So if we can find other ways to keep the environment clean that will affect positively the Clean Air Act…and so many of us are in that situation, then we have to find other ways to reduce pollutants. Nuclear power is obviously one of those ways."
Mills said the information technology era's demand for "unusually clean, stable, reliable electrons" will surpass the demands of the first era that began around 1900 with the invention of the light bulb and electric motors, and the second era that began about 1950 with the invention of air conditioning and refrigeration.
The Nuclear Energy Assembly is the annual conference sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's Washington, D.C.-based policy organization.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.